Before diving into 2014, here is my annual list of overhyped and underreported local stories of the past year.
One of these is not like the others: Ordering a delivery pizza. Downloading your favorite artist’s new song. Luring an NBA or NHL team from another city.
Anyone who thought the Sacramento Kings — or any other NBA or NHL team, let alone two of them — would instantly move to Seattle just because of a fancy new arena needs to go spend time in Kansas City, Quebec or any of the other places where new arenas have been sitting vacant for years because myopic local leaders suffered from the same hubris.
Boeing, Microsoft, and Amazon are not local companies. For them, the Puget Sound is a pushpin on a world map with several hundred of them. Stories that assume we should root for these companies because they’re “ours” are laughably provincial.
Closer to home, there was no downtown crime wave this year. Crime stats are down overall, continuing a years-long trend. What we did have was an effort to influence this year’s mayoral race, by hyping ordinary levels of street crime to make an incumbent mayor look bad.
Real estate prospects masquerading as transportation initiatives continue to dominate local budget priorities. Almost all of Seattle’s discretionary transportation money is now going to a streetcar folly that simply moves existing transit riders into a new mode, at much higher costs per mile. Just like the Mercer Mess and the downtown tunnel, it’s all about increasing property values.
Meanwhile, existing transportation infrastructure is a mess. Bus ridership is at record levels, but instead of expanding to meet overwhelming demand, Metro is facing draconian cuts.
While the city builds streetcars, there’s a 10-year backlog of repairs to city roads. Some bridges — like the Magnolia Bridge, damaged in the earthquake 13 years ago — are in real danger of collapsing.
The new state Route 520 bridge toll turns out to be a spectacularly regressive tax: Traffic is down in half, and 90 percent of those no longer using the bridge are doing so for financial reasons — this suits wealthy folks in Hunts Point just fine. But the new bridge being built has been plagued by problems with the pontoons due to shoddy contractor work.
In this year’s local election campaigns, almost all coverage focused on the mayoral race, while at least three larger stories got ignored. The charter amendment creating City Council districts will fundamentally reshape local politics, but it went under the radar for the same reason it faced almost no organized opposition: Local civic leaders didn’t think it would pass. (It won in a landslide.)
The same discontent with local leadership led to an open socialist, Kshama Sawant, unseating entrenched 16-year City Council incumbent Richard Conlin, but local media missed all the signs of Sawant’s momentum. (Full disclosure: Geov Parrish served as Sawant’s campaign marketing and communications director.)
Meanwhile, the unprecedented money big agri-business poured into defeating a statewide GMO-labeling intiative — of the $22 million “no” forces raised, exactly $550 came from Washington state — went either unremarked or buried in “both sides are doing it” false equivalence.
Seattle police reform inched along, despite the best efforts of Mayor Mike McGinn and Seattle Police Department (SPD) leaders to obstruct it. The federal monitor’s badly under-covered November report on reform was identical to his April one, citing widespread resistance within SPD. That didn’t stop McGinn from claiming on the campaign trail that he had championed reforms. Local media left his blatant lie completely unchallenged.
State Republicans are just as unhinged as their national counterparts, doing exactly what their colleagues in Congress did: manufacturing a crisis to force passage of a terrible budget and blocking almost everything else — except, of course, a record corporate-welfare package for Boeing, presented and passed in 72 hours with no public input.
Seattle Public Schools’ leadership is as bad as ever, with a relentless campaign to teach to meaningless tests and defund programs and alternative schools that don’t conform to standardization. One symptom: The feds are now investigating Seattle for its disproportionate discipline rates of African-American students.
Seattle’s skyrocketing rents.
The complete mess the state and local governments are making of new regulations for legalized cannabis.
A Pacific Coast Action Plan for climate change that looks DOA in Olympia.
Seattle Parks and Recreation covering up radiation issues in Magnuson Park for years.
And on and on.
Here’s to better local news coverage in 2014.
GEOV PARRISH is cofounder of Eat the State! He also reviews news of the week on “Mind Over Matters” on KEXP 90.3 FM. To comment on this column, write to QAMagNews@nwlink.com.